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He was born in Marbach (located in Germany's Stuttgart Region), the son of the military doctor, J. C. Schiller. His childhood and youth were spent in relative poverty, although he attended both village and Latin schools, and coming to the attention of Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, entered the Karlsschule Stuttgart (an elite military academy founded by Duke Karl Eugen) in 1773, where he eventually studied medicine.
While at the arduous and oppressive school, he read Rousseau and Goethe and discussed Classical ideals with his classmates. At school, he wrote his first play, The Robbers, about a group of naïve revolutionaries and their tragic failure.
Following the performance of Die Räuber (The Robbers) in Mannheim in 1781 he was arrested and forbidden to publish any further works. He fled Stuttgart in 1783 coming via Leipzig and Dresden to Weimar in 1787. In 1789 he was appointed professor of History and Philosophy in Jena, where he wrote only historical works. He returned to Weimar in 1799, where Goethe convinced him to return to playwriting. He and Goethe founded the Weimar Theater which became the leading theater in Germany, leading to a dramatic renaissance. He remained in Weimar until his death at 45 from tuberculosis.
Schiller was the only son, beside five sisters, of Johann Kaspar Schiller (1733-1796), and Elisabeth Dorothea Kodweiß (1732-1802). On February 1802 he married Charlotte von Lengefeld (1766-1826). Four children were born between 1793 and 1804. The sons Karl and Ernst and the daughters Luise and Emilie. The grandchild of Emilie, Baron Alexander of Gleichen-Rußwurm, died in 1947 at Baden-Baden, Germany. He was the last living descendant of Schiller.
Schiller wrote many philosophical papers on ethics and aesthetics, finding that beauty must be conceived in the mind by applying reason to the senses and emotions. He developed the concept of the Schöne Seele (beautiful soul), a human being whose emotions have been educated by his reason, so that Pflicht und Neigung (duty and inclination) are no longer in conflict with one another. His philosophy glorified heroic statesmanship and helped to oppose the oligarchical duchies of his time to create the Weimar Renaissance.
The Aesthetic Letters
A pivotal work by Schiller was On the Aesthetic Education of Man in a series of Letters, (Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen in einer Reihe von Briefen) which was inspired by the great disappointment Schiller felt about the French Revolution. He had hoped that it would be an American-style revolution, leading to the formation of a constitutional republic. Instead, it became a bloodbath. Schiller wrote that "a great moment has found a little people," and wrote the Letters as a philosophical inquiry into what had gone wrong, and how to prevent such tragedies in the future. In the Letters he asserts that it is possible to elevate the moral character of a people, by first touching their souls with beauty, an idea that is also found in his poem Die Künstler (The Artists): "Only through Beauty's morning-gate, dost thou penetrate the land of knowledge."
On the philosophical side, Letters put forth the notion of Stofftrieb ("the sensuous drive") and Formtrieb ("the formal drive"). In a comment to Immanuel Kant's philosophy, Schiller transcends Kant's dualism between Form and Stoff, with the notion of Spieltrieb ("the play drive") as a source of beauty and contentment. On the basis of Spieltrieb, Schiller sketches in Letters a future ideal state (an utopia), where everyone will be content, and everything will be beautiful, thanks to the free play of Spieltrieb. Being a typical construct of philosophical romanticism, Schiller's focus on the dialectical interplay between Form and Stoff has inspired a wide range of succeeding aesthetic philosophical theory.
For his achievements, Schiller was ennobled in 1802 by the Duke of Weimar. His name changed from Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller to Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller.
- "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." — Maid of Orleans
Musical settings of Schiller's poems
Ludwig van Beethoven said that a great poem is more difficult to set to music than a merely good one, because the composer must improve upon the poem. In that regard, he said that Schiller's poems were greater than those of Goethe, and perhaps that is why there are relatively few famous musical settings of Schiller's poems. Two notable exceptions are Beethoven's setting of An die Freude (Ode to Joy) in the final movement of the Ninth Symphony, and the choral setting of Nanie by Johannes Brahms.
- Die Räuber or The Robbers (1781)
- Kabale und Liebe or Intrigue and Love (1784)
- Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien or Don Carlos (1787)
- Wallenstein (1800) (translated from a manuscript copy into English as The Piccolomini and Death of Wallenstein by Coleridge in 1800)
- Die Jungfrau von Orleans or The Maid of Orleans (1801)
- Maria Stuart or Mary Stuart (1801)
- Die Braut von Messina (1803),
- Wilhelm Tell or William Tell (1804)
- Demetrius (unfinished at his death)
- Geschichte des Abfalls der vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung or The Revolt of the Netherlands
- Geschichte des dreissigjährigen Kriegs or A History of the Thirty Years' War
- Über Völkerwanderung, Kreuzzüge und Mittelalter or On the Barbarian Invasions, Crusaders and Middle Ages
- An die Freude or Ode to Joy (1785) which became the basis for the fourth movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony
- The Artists
- The Cranes of Ibykus
- The Bell
- Pegasus in Harness
- The Glove
- Project Gutenberg e-texts of some of Friedrich Schiller's works
- Friedrich Schiller Chronology
- 2005 is Schiller year: all dates
- Letters upon the Education of Man at 
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